On May 19th last year a Court hearing took place that had important implications for the residents of Madawaska Valley. Superior Court Justice Adriana Doyle had to decide whether it was in the public interest to strike out (i.e. apply a “gag order” to) the legal action commenced by The Current and its owners following a coordinated attack upon them by members of MV Council and CAO Klatt in August 2019. The allegations are that the Defendants’ conduct amounted to abuse of their power through making baseless allegations against the Plaintiffs with the intent of sabotaging their reputations. In short, that they used “targeted malice” in revenge for examples of its investigative journalism published over the previous two years. In support of the claims the Court was referred to, among other evidence, public threats made against The Current by Mayor Kim Love and Councillor Ernie Peplinski.
The Leader and the Valley Gazette tuned in to the hearing, but …
Given the importance of the hearing The Current’s owners, who represented themselves, were not surprised to see that also observing it were Gerald Tracey, News Editor/Publisher of The Eganville Leader, Michel Lavigne, Publisher of the Valley Gazette, and Katrina Boguski, then Staff Reporter for the Valley Gazette. They had not been invited by the Plaintiffs and it is assumed, and was not subsequently denied, that their presence stemmed from the Defendants’ invitation, no doubt to witness and report on what members of Council and Klatt hoped would be a humiliating verdict against The Current.
Justice Doyle reserved her decision for three months during which time despite their investment of a whole day watching argument, not one word about the litigation or what transpired at the hearing appeared in the pages of both newspapers. The possible reason for this was revealed when it was reported to The Current that Lavigne was making it known that shortly after the hearing he had been requested not to publish a report about The Current’s lawsuit. We have reached out to Tracey and Lavigne, as well as the Defendants, to confirm or deny this claim, but they have done neither.
Justice Doyle released her decision on August 6th. She rejected the Defendants’ request to strike out the action saying that contrary to the Township’s position, it was in the public interest to allow the action to proceed, adding that the Plaintiffs had established that they could well be entitled to compensation because of the Defendants’ conduct. The Current immediately forwarded a copy of her judgment to both Tracey and Lavigne, stating that in view of their attendance at the original hearing, they would no doubt be reporting the decision to their readers. However, neither newspaper broke their silence to acquaint their readers with the Court’s decision in spite of the clear focus by the judge on what was in the public interest for Madawaska Valley residents. It is also worth mentioning that Tracey, Lavigne and Boguski would all have heard Defendants’ counsel, Paul Cassan of Wishart Law, tell Justice Doyle that her decision would be of interest and concern to municipalities across the country.
The legal costs bombshell
In October it was revealed that Wishart Law had apparently been paid $360,000 in this losing cause. On any analysis, this is a staggering and grossly disproportionate amount of money to pay for what has been described by legal professionals as a straightforward preliminary motion that was not complex – the more so because their adversaries were representing themselves. The news provoked the Township to issue a Press Release advising residents that Doyle’s decision was being appealed and that the legal costs had been paid by the Township’s insurer. The Current’s response to this: on its face this appears to amount to a “cynical plundering” of a municipal insurance policy. Hence, it has tried to seek an explanation from the Township’s insurance representative, Intact Public Entities.
Request to insurer results in threats
The first letter to Intact written by The Current, on behalf of concerned ratepayers, was forwarded to Wishart Law by Intact without advising The Current that it had done so. This prompted Wisharts to write to the Toronto lawyer who is representing The Current and its owners in opposing the Township’s appeal. Their letter threatened legal action if The Current continued to request an investigation. It must be assumed that Wisharts was instructed by the Township to make these threats. This begs the question: what is it that the Township is trying to hide from its ratepayers? In any event, undeterred, The Current has continued to correspond with Intact seeking relevant information, including asking it to divulge to ratepayers exactly how much money was paid to Wishart Law on their behalves. Our correspondence included a letter of support from former MV Mayor John Hildebrandt. As of the date of this article, Intact has provided no substantive response to our correspondence.
Township refuses to release Wishart invoices
Following review of the Wishart’s costs submissions, because of aparent anomalies in some of the information they contained, a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) was made to MV Township for copies of all of their invoices. giving reasons. Klatt responded by providing only $60,000 worth and she also inexplicably redacted every word describing what services had been rendered, thereby making the disclosure meaningless. She was asked to provide the invoices for the balance of almost $300,000, but denied the request saying that the Township did not have “custody or control” of them. A further request to explain this as well as the redactions was ignored, which has resulted in this being referred for investigation by the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC).
These are serious red flags especially in an election year
There is an obvious disconnect between an expenditure of $360,000 using the “public interest” excuse but then taking steps to suppress information reaching the same “public,” simply because of an adverse Court decision if that in fact is what has occurred. We have asked The Valley Gazette to explain why, by way of contrast, it has recently devoted many column inches to the attempt, also with Wishart Law’s involvement, to remove a Councillor from office in the neighbouring municipality of Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan (BLR). That decision is also under appeal but this has not stopped it from reporting in the fullest detail about that judicial decision. A reason for this journalistic incongruity is still awaited.
It is to be hoped that as we move forward in this election year, Madawaska Valley residents will not continue to be kept in the dark by The Leader and the Gazette. Surely it is essential that residents, including those who may be interested in running for office, as well as electors voting next October be suitably armed with full objective disclosure of the past performance of the current members of MV Council. This is especially important when it comes to compliance with their statutory obligations of “integrity, accountability and transparency.”
Roger and Danielle Paul